FSI: What were you doing before you came to Stanford?
JR: I came directly from undergrad and didn't have any full-time work experience. I got my degree in China, but participated in a University of California-San Diego foreign exchange program during my third year. So technically speaking, I spent three years in undergrad in China and one year in the states.
As an undergraduate, I founded a student-run NGO protecting Chinese traditional folk cultures with a focus on handwritten letters, which is the first of its kind in the country. With all kinds of activities, we hope to connect the younger generations in China to their home culture and history. Apart from that, I also worked with the Gates Foundation, the California State Senate, Edelman, and some financial institutions prior to Stanford.
For me, it was a big transition to go from being an undergraduate student to a graduate student. That's what I was most stressed about during my first quarter here. But things calmed down, and I’m a lot less stressed and am really enjoying my studies right now.
Can you talk a little more about what that transition was like for you?
For example, during undergrad, I became really interested in the philanthropy side of business, like impact investing, which is sort of an intersection between the private sector, the business world, and the public world. But I feel like most of the things I did in my undergrad were very straightforward and business-related — like business competitions — and very practical.
And that helped make the transition easier for me, because the MIP program is also very practical in the terms of the training, and its education purpose. But on the other hand, the program forced me to start thinking from a policymaker’s perspective, and to do work that’s very reading- and writing-intensive, which I didn’t do much of during undergrad.
The business cases I would read as an undergraduate were physically around five pages long. But here, I most things we read are 30 or 40 pages. So one of the biggest transitions for me was adjusting to that reading load, which is totally different what I did in undergrad. I also used to attend a lot of business events and take part in business competitions. In graduate school, I’m more likely to stay at home and do the readings and other work for my classes.
What’s the MIP community like?
My classmates are supportive, considerate and helpful. When I was a first year, many second years came to ask me whether I need any help. At the time, I was not used to making friends with people who are seven or eight years older than me, and I was a little nervous. But people at Stanford are just so nice — even though many of my classmates are more experienced than I am, they treat me like an equal. I’m very grateful for my classmates in the MIP program.
Why did you decide to apply to the MIP program, and why did you choose to enroll here over other programs?
I really like that it has a very small cohort. I like that we’re able to have more one-on-one time with professors, and more opportunities to use the resources that Stanford has to offer. I also knew that Stanford is very well known for its engineering school and computer science program, and I was excited to be able to take some classes in those areas in addition to my policy classes. I took a really great course called CS106A, and learned how to program in Python. It was a pretty basic course — compared to what Stanford computer science majors learn — but I really loved it.
And because I was coming from a business background, I also wanted to take more courses that were related to impact investing, finance, and philanthropy. And the Graduate School of Business (GSB) is a great school that offers excellent courses on these topics. Plus it’s right across the street from Encina Hall! I took as many courses at the GSB as I could. One highlight was a class I took on machine learning, and I’ve been able to apply some of the things I learned in that class to the research I’m conducting with Professor Karen Eggleston on how Japan’s robotic development copes with the aging population, and how it impacts elderly-care and health industry.
What are your career goals and have they changed at all since you started at the MIP program?
My long-term goal is to do philanthropy, and that has not changed. Specifically, I want to create my own social enterprise in education, and I’d like to target early childhood education. At the same time, I hope to be able to donate to organizations, initiatives, and programs that I really care about.
One of my short-term goals coming into the program was to have a full-time job working at an international organization or at a foundation. And for my internship last summer, I had the opportunity to work at the World Bank. It was incredible — I had the chance to experience firsthand how international organizations work, how they operate, and what people are doing within the World Bank.
At the same time, I also did a part-time internship with the Paulson Institute, which is an environmental protection foundation with a focus on U.S.-China relations. They’re really on the cutting edge of green finance, which basically means that they’re trying to bring sustainable development to the financial world. On the one hand, we want to use financial tools to solve environmental problems. But on the other hand, we also want to do the finance side in a sustainable way. After taking part in both internships, I decided I’d like to work at a foundation after graduation as another short-term goal.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to future MIP students?
I would encourage students without work experience — who are coming straight from undergrad — to apply! I was a discouraged when I was beginning the application process at age 21 and saw that the average age of the MIP cohorts was 27 to 28 years old. I didn’t think I had a chance to get in, but I did. So if any future students are hesitant to apply because they think they might be too young, I would encourage them to be bold and apply. You never know what could happen!